On the one hand it was a bit strange to make such a big deal out of opening Parliament given that Henry had closed the last Parliament less than a month earlier…just prior to the investigation that ended with Anne Boleyn’s death. But this was a man doing the medieval equivalent of getting in front of the news: going out formally among his people to accept their congratulations and establish the public record. (Interesting contrast between the way he ate this up here but rejected anything of the sort after Catherine Howard’s execution…). And Parliament jumped right in – adopting (acquiescing…) to Henry’s Second Act of Succession – the one that bastardized Mary and Elizabeth and gave everything to the children that he and Jane would have (essentially leaving the country with no legitimate heir…but people skipped over that consequence).
I’m going to skip the description of the procession (it was pretty standard stuff – dhorses, fanfare…) and go straight to the main event. Agnes Strickland does a great job of describing the scene at Westminster – adding wonderful indignation on top of it – so so I’m just going to share the highlights with you:
“The lord chancellor Audley … introduced the subject of the king’s new marriage in a speech so tedious in length that the clerks who wrote the parliamentary journals gave up its transcription in despair. Yet they fortunately left extant an abstract, containing a curious condolence on the exquisite sufferings the monarch had endured in matrimony. ‘Ye well remember,’ pathetically declaimed chancellor Audley, ‘the great anxieties and perturbations [that] this invincible sovereign suffered on account of his first unlawful marriage; so all ought to bear in mind the perils and dangers he was under when he contracted his second marriage, and that the lady Anne and her accomplices have since been justly found guilty of high treason, and have met their due reward for it. What man of middle life would not this deter from marrying a third time? Yet this our most excellent prince again condescends to contract matrimony, and hath on the humble petition of the nobility, taken to himself a wife this time whose age and fine form give promise of issue.’”
Agnes continues with Audley describing Henry’s “two objects in view in summoning a parliament,” and recites how Parliament responded by entailing the crown on Jane’s children, then choosing Richard Rich as the speaker for the Commons. Here Agnes goes off on a rant, describing how Rich “outdid the chancellor Audley in his fulsome praises of the king, thinking proper to load his speech with personal flattery, ‘comparing him for strength and fortitude to Samson, for justice and prudence to Solomon, and for beauty and comeliness to Absalom’.”
“Thus did the English senate condescend to encourage Henry in his vices, calling his self-indulgence self-denial, and all his evil good; inflating his wicked willfulness with eulogy, till he actually forgot, according to Wolsey’s solemn warning, ‘that there was both heaven and hell.’ While this biographer is appalled as the domestic features of this moral monster are unveiled, surely some abhorrence is due to the unison of atrocity that met in the hearts and heads of his advisers and flatterers.”
Source: Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Volume V
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